Bob Hickingbottom addresses the crowd at the Neshoba County Fair in Philadelphia on Aug. 1, 2019. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

The Mississippi Supreme Court has ruled that Democratic gubernatorial candidate Bob Hickingbottom waited too late to appeal the state party kicking him off the ballot for the Aug. 8 primary.

Specially appointed Hinds County Circuit Judge Forrest Johnson Jr. late last month ruled the state Democratic Party improperly disqualified Hickingbottom, and that he should be placed on the ballot. The party appealed to the state’s high court, which released its decision Thursday.

Hickingbottom’s ouster leaves Northern District Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley as the lone candidate in the Democratic gubernatorial primary. He is expected to face incumbent Republican Gov. Tate Reeves in the November general election.

The lower court had ruled that Hickingbottom met all requirements to run for office. That ruling noted that while Hickingbottom had waited too late to appeal his disqualification per state law, his right to run for office and the right of people to vote for him “prevails over his delay in seeking relief from this court.”

The state Democratic Party Executive Committee in February ruled that Hickingbottom and another little-known candidate, Gregory Wash, both failed to meet qualifications to run because they failed to file statements of economic interest with the state Ethics Commission. The lower court ruled this was not a disqualifying offense for candidacy.

But the high court said the law gave Hickingbottom 15 days to file an appeal of his disqualification, but he filed 75 days later. The court noted that Hickingbottom failed to provide any “excuse for his excessive untimeliness.”

The decision, written by Justice Robert Chamberlin, noted “we decline to address the other issues addressed by the (Democratic Executive Committee)” when it disqualified Hickingbottom.

The Supreme Court voted 8-0 on the decision, with Justice Kenneth Griffis not participating. The court made clear its decision is the final word on the appeal “in light of the impending ballot deadlines for the August 8, 2023 primary election.”

The ruling in the Hickingbottom case in some ways mirrors a decision from last week by the state Supreme Court in a Lowndes County case. 

In that case, the Lowndes County School District had appealed a ruling of the supervisors who granted tax exemptions – equaling $3.4 million in school taxes — to an industry. A chancery judge sided with the school district. 

But the supervisors appealed the chancery court decision to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court found in favor of the supervisors saying the law provides only 10 days to appeal a decision of the supervisors and the notice of appeal had to be filed with the circuit court. 

The school district, according to the Supreme Court decision, failed to file its appeal within 10 days and did not file the notice in the circuit court – both of which are mandated in state law. 

“The (Lowndes County School) District failed to file a notice of appeal in the circuit court and it failed to do so within the 10 -day deadline, both of which are jurisdictional requirements,” Chief Justice Michael Randolph wrote for the majority. Seven of the nine justices joined the Randolph decision. 

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Geoff Pender serves as senior political reporter, working closely with Mississippi Today leadership on editorial strategy and investigations. Pender brings 30 years of political and government reporting experience to Mississippi Today. He was political and investigative editor at the Clarion Ledger, where he also penned a popular political column. He previously served as an investigative reporter and political editor at the Sun Herald, where he was a member of the Pulitzer Prize-winning team for Hurricane Katrina coverage. Originally from Florence, Mississippi, Pender is a journalism graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi and has received numerous awards throughout his career for reporting, columns and freedom of information efforts.

Bobby Harrison, Mississippi Today’s senior capitol reporter, covers politics, government and the Mississippi State Legislature. He also writes a weekly news analysis which is co-published in newspapers statewide. A native of Laurel, Bobby joined our team June 2018 after working for the North Mississippi Daily Journal in Tupelo since 1984. He is president of the Mississippi Capitol Press Corps Association and works with the Mississippi State University Stennis Institute to organize press luncheons. Bobby has a bachelor's in American Studies from the University of Southern Mississippi and has received multiple awards from the Mississippi Press Association, including the Bill Minor Best Investigative/In-depth Reporting and Best Commentary Column.